The Business Backstage
Before a concert begins, before the house lights dim, the atmosphere can feel electric. Anticipation runs high.
Ryan Vangel ’95 knows that feeling well. As vice president of talent booking for Live Nation New England, he has helped book hundreds of concerts through the years, including some of the biggest stadium shows that make their way to Massachusetts every summer.
The memorable nights are many. Vangel remembers fondly Fenway Park concerts in 2015 with the Foo Fighters and in 2016 with Pearl Jam. That was the first time those bands played the venerable ballpark, whose history and mystique make for an enchanting concert venue.
“It’s pretty awe-inspiring,” Vangel says. “I remember thinking, ‘Does it get better than this?’ ”
Whatever the night, Vangel experiences the satisfaction of seeing the direct results of his work. He books a show, handles negotiations and scheduling, and then it ultimately becomes reality.
“You see the stage being built, the crowd coming in,” he says. “What we do is pretty magical.”
The Eye of the Storm
Live Nation is the world’s largest events promoter, and Vangel is involved with some of the biggest venues in New England, including Boston’s Fenway Park, TD Garden, Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, and Foxborough’s Gillette Stadium. Altogether, he books about 100 concerts a year.
Breaking into the music business wasn’t easy for Vangel. He started as a runner, basically serving as a delivery driver, and he once was let go from a job with a New York City promoter on his first official day.
Vangel first began booking shows at small clubs in and around Boston. He learned from those small gigs the importance of service, of earning trust that you can handle whatever situation arises. “You get better at relaxing in the eye of the storm,” he says. “When things go wrong, you stay calm and find a solution.”
He also credits his Babson education for giving him the necessary business mindset. He remembers lessons from Babson, the case studies, the analyzing of business problems. The concert industry, he points out, is about much more than just music and good times. “There is a lot more of business than people assume,” he says.
Research and Gut
To book shows, Vangel handles a variety of tasks, such as coordinating publicity and finding a suitable date, which can sometimes be difficult. Booking at TD Garden, for instance, involves navigating the schedules of both the Bruins and Celtics sports teams.
To set ticket prices, Vangel relies, not only on metrics such as album sales and radio play, but also on a fair amount of intuition. “You develop that over time,” he says. “Here is all the research, but now what does my gut think?”
Dealing with difficult personalities also is part of the job. Agents are always angling for the best deal for their client. “There are people who are high intensity,” Vangel says. “You have to be ready for them. It can be jarring. You have to be comfortable with getting them what they need and also standing up for what is fair to both sides.”
On the nights of many shows, Vangel also makes sure an artist is paid. Usually he deals with an act’s representative, but he personally paid the great Aretha Franklin twice. Franklin knew of musicians who had been swindled by promoters in the past, and she never forgot that. “She would settle her own shows,” Vangel says. “She didn’t trust anyone else.”
The lessons Vangel has learned, from both the classroom and the club, continue to aid him. In July, a lightning storm forced a long delay of a sold-out Phish show he booked at Fenway Park, making for a stressful situation with lots of money at stake.
Backstage, Vangel and others monitored weather services and talked about what to do. Eventually, the show went on, with the band doing one long set instead of its customary two. “Instead of panicking,” Vangel says, “we put our heads down and found a way to make it work.”
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership